A friend reached out to me recently to ask what support or advice I might offer for parents and children in India right now as they go through this unprecedented crisis. There is so much disruption and trauma and loss for everyone there and families are no exception. Whether or not we're affected by this in particular, we all go through challenging times in our lives and in our families. A move, a job loss, a sick relative. Life happens. We might wish we could protect our children completely from these challenging experiences but the truth is, they're part of life. It isn't the circumstances themselves that have the greatest impact, but the way in which we respond. This is ultimately what shapes our own experience and our child’s experience of what is unfolding. So, how do we nurture and support our children and ourselves through tumultuous times? How do we keep a sense of calmness and compassion when those big changes and challenges come? Here are a few ideas that can help create a strong foundation to weather life's storms and give us an anchor in times of crisis.
Stick to Routines
Challenging and unexpected circumstances can disrupt our routines but finding even one or two things that you can keep consistent can make a huge difference. Mealtimes and bedtimes are a good place to focus. Making them regular and predictable can give everyone in the family a way to anchor themselves. It’s tempting to throw our routines out the window when things get crazy but this is the time you and your children need them the most! Repetition and routine help children to cope with the normal and healthy stress of normal development. In challenging times, calm, predictable rhythms can support both parent and child to cope with the added stress.
Rituals differ from routines by the attention and intention we give to them. It may be something you do regularly, like a routine, but it has a special meaning and feeling to it. It could be a blessing before eating that expresses a sense of gratitude, a special song or story at bedtime that helps you to connect with each other or Saturday pizza night each week as a way to celebrate. Rituals, like routines, can bring a sense of calmness through their familiarity while also helping us to reconnect with each other and the values we hold dear. Perhaps your religious or spiritual tradition has certain rituals that can support you. You may also like to adapt or invent a new ritual or ceremony as a family to help acknowledge big feelings and big changes that occur. Singing a song for the passing of a pet, lighting a candle to send healing light to a loved one, or a special drawing or gift to celebrate or mark a transition. Rituals can give us simple yet meaningful ways to cultivate a sense of compassion and connection in difficult times.
Maintain an Uplifting Environment
I've talked before about the importance of environment and there are many factors that can influence our level of calmness and compassion or conversely our level of stress and negativity. It’s especially important to be aware and use these surrounding influences to support and uplift us. Pay attention to what you watch or listen to and how it makes you feel. When children are around or in ear shot, turn off the news completely or take your phone conversation outside. Music can have a powerful effect on our nervous system and our consciousness. Listen to soothing music in the background as you get ready in the morning or commute to work or school. Make an extra effort to focus on positive and uplifting influences through the stories, music or movies you choose.
Focus on Basic Self-Care
Difficult times can lead us to neglect our basic needs in the stress and overwhelm of unexpected events but the extra effort to choose healthy foods or take a few minutes to move and play together can have a big impact on everyone’s overall health and wellbeing. Keep your body and mind strong and positive and make sure not to overlook the importance of the basics - good food, plenty of water and some movement or exercise each day for every member of the family, including you! If you can take a few minutes to yourself to relax and breathe (even 5 minutes in the bathroom!), you’ll renew your inner resources and be able to approach the situation with greater calmness. Find something that helps you to stay inspired and connected and don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help. Sometimes when life gets out of balance we need friends and community to remind us of what matters.
Challenging times can be an opportunity to practice acceptance and compassion for ourselves and others; to let go of our expectations that life should be other than it is. Pay attention to where “should” might be creeping in (“I should be calmer” or “My kids should be more helpful.”) and see if you can invite a sense of relaxation and space around these expectations just for today. Acknowledge that this is a challenging situation but know you’re not alone in this. We all go through difficult times and everyone is doing the best that they can. Everything in life, even our mistakes and challenges, are an opportunity for us to learn and grow. These tips can be applied any time but I hope they're helpful if you find yourself going through a particularly challenging time. Please reach out if you're needing more support. I'm happy to talk one-on-one or have you join our next monthly circle on June 2nd for more inspiration. You don't have to do it alone!